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UK Life League and scare tactics

This afternoon, I have opened my inbox to be greeted by a one-line email from the UK Life League, an anti-abortion group, presumably in response to things I have written on the subject previously. This is the group of which one member was jailed last month for mailing anti-abortion literature to NHS practitioners. It read:

Simon, this is abortion.

Attached were two photographs of aborted foetuses, clearly intended to be disturbing. I won’t reproduce them here, not because I shy away from the reality of abortion, merely because I wouldn’t carry images of any surgery both out of respect for the patient and on grounds of taste and decency. This site is not the place for images like that.

I have also chosen in this post not too link to their website, though it is easy enough to find, as they seem to employ scare tactics to prevent people from having abortions. If a woman is considering aborting a foetus, she surely deserves to hear reasoned, factual arguments for and against. I don’t begin to claim that all women do hear this as a matter of course – even though I strongly believe they should – but they’re not going to find such a debate on the website of the UK Life League anyway.

People are entitled to their own beliefs in this area. I’ve made my views known on here in the past, and I’ve made it known that I have no problem with others’ opinions. I do have a problem with people forcing their opinions on others, as it appears this group have attempted to do with me.

My reply?

Thanks for that.

As someone in medicine myself, I have seen abortion. I know it’s not pleasant. It certainly isn’t legally murder, whether or not it’s morally murder is not for me to dictate. I’m happy for people to have their own views – you’re clearly antiabortion, and I hold no problem with that point of view. Why do you hold a problem with me having the opposing view?

And if it’s a moral argument you have, then when do you feel it appropriate to send unsolicited images of abortion to people whose background you do not know? Would you send pictures of decapitated murder victims to those opposing legislation banning the sale of knives? Or images of sexually abused children to those opposing mandatory life sentences for paedophiles? Or images of surgery in frank detail to those undergoing tumour removals?

I agree with your point that abortion on demand shouldn’t be carried out under the guise of protecting the mental health of the mother. That is not how the legislation was intended to be interpreted, and I guess from that point of view, it is bad legislation.

This kind of action, however, merely weakens your arguments by making you look radicalised and unmeasured in your actions. When you’re ready to have a reasoned debate, I will be ready to listen – if not necessarily agree.



Update: 28th June 2006
They’ve replied!

You miss the point, UK LifeLeague is not interested in reasoned debate. Abortion is wrong. We have seen some of your comment on your blog regarding abortion. If this is what you mean by reasoned debate then you can keep it.

Killing baby’s and those who support such barbarism are beyond reasoning with.

They don’t want a debate, they just want their way. They can’t even pluralise ‘baby’ without error. I hate to say it, but I don’t hold out much hope for their cause.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

World’s second richest man gives it all away

Warren BuffettWarren Buffett is to donate £20bn, 85% of his personal fortune, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That is, in a word, incredible.

This move will doubtless be criticised by some, who will claim that it’s easy for someone rich to give away vast amounts of money, especially when you’ll be left with £3bn in the bank anyway. That’s not really true, as evidence by the fact that those of lower income give a greater percentage of said income to charity than those with a higher income, and by the way Bono and Bob Geldof implore us to donate money to charity whilst sitting on £108m and £30m fortunes themselves. Warren Buffett hasn’t done this: He’s actually donated his own money – most of his own money – to a cause he believes in.

It won’t stop anti-capitalist campaigners from saying he’s only doing it as a guilt-releiving exercise, but that’s their problem.

As far as I’m concerned, good on him.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Correction: Miliblog did not cost £6,000

David Miliband, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsI’d like to make an apology. Back in April, I claimed that David Miliband had spent £6,000 setting up a blog on the ODPM website. New facts – directly from the horse’s mouth, so-to-speak – have now come to light, and I’d like to apologise for the error.

In fact, the first year of Mr Miliband’s blogging efforts has cost the taxpayer £8,150.

That’s £6,000 initial set-up costs, £1,250 to change the ODPM JPEG to a Defra one, and then a further £900 annual running costs. On top of this, some poor dogsbody civil servant is paid an unspecified amount to spend an unspecified length of time

posting blogs and comments

Yes, it would appear that a civil servant is paid to comment on the blog. Which, in my mind at least, rather defeats the purpose.

Mr Miliband pays someone to write his blog, and then pays someone to leave comments that presumably toe the party line. A great service to democracy, and all for £8,150 plus wages.


This post was filed under: News and Comment.

FactCheck’s back


FactCheck, Channel 4’s despinning, debunking, delightful website crafted to help with coverage of the General Election and inspited by the US’s factcheck.org, is back after a 14 month hiatus. Here’s what I said when it launched first time around:

This is an excellent idea – an independent website which will check the facts spouted by the politicians between now and the general election. Perhaps it will encourage our party leaders to be more honest in their speeches, instead of making false claims in order to scare voters into voting for them above the opposition parties. Perhaps it will mean that the leaders can no longer hide from the truth about their past performance behind some dodgily compiled selective statistics. Perhaps it will even stop the politicians from telling outright lies.

Of course, it never actually did any of those things, but it was still fun to read, and hence got a reasonable amount of coverage on this blog. My only complaint thus far is that the logo’s been replaced with an uninspiring red box with the Channel 4 font surrounded by compression artefacts (see picture), and each article is split over several pages. A disappointment. But the actual content still seems to be up-to-scratch.

I, for one, am glad to see it back.

This post was filed under: Media, News and Comment, Politics.

sjhoward.co.uk becomes sjhoward.co.uk

This site has been sjhoward.co.uk for a long time – almost three years, in fact – and was simonhoward.co.uk for four years before that. But in all this time, whilst the site’s name has not included ‘www’, the default URI has done. From today, that has changed.

The site is now truly sjhoward.co.uk, with www.sjhoward.co.uk being deprecated. The latter URI will work, but will now redirect to the former automatically. This change is mainly for cosmetic reasons – it brings the site’s name better in line with it’s URL – though there is also a technical argument for the change as well.

All subdomains remain the same; election.sjhoward.co.uk still accesses stuff from Election 2005, tsunami.sjhoward.co.uk still accesses the posts about the 2004 Tsunami, and mobile.sjhoward.co.uk still gets you to the mobile version of the site.

It’s not the most significant change in the history of the world, but it’s probably worth noting.

This post was filed under: Site Updates.

Choosing our battles: Why fight HIV?

MosquitoHIV and AIDS are terrible. They’re particularly terrible if you’re living in a country where anti-retrovirals are not available, and I don’t want to appear to trivialise that. But worldwide, the bigger estimates state that only 38 million people have HIV. That’s less than two-thirds of the UK population. Given that we have a very limited pot of money to tackle health problems in the developing world, is HIV the best thing to tackle?

Many people like to try and wage war with HIV on the basis that it’s easy to prevent. It’s said that consulting your sexually transmitted disease doctor, practicing safe sex, or abstinence, prevents HIV infection. That’s true. But that doesn’t make it easy to tackle. Even in the most developed and scientific of nations, we can’t get the safe sex message across. The UK has an appallingly high rate of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and sexually-transmitted HIV. Over 50,000 people in the UK are HIV positive, and that number is growing by almost 7,000 per year. We’re much better placed to tackle HIV than are aid workers with limited resources in Africa, not least because this country has a much lesser objection to the use of barrier contraception. Tackling HIV is not easy.

Treating HIV is vastly expensive. Conservative estimates say that anti-retroviral treatments cost a minimum of US$3,600 per year. Providing anti-retrovirals does not cure HIV, it merely slows its progress. And looking at things in a cruelly scientific way, the longer an HIV positive person is alive, the greater the risk of infecting a greater number of people. I’m not condoning murder of all HIV positive people in Sub-Saharan Africa, and it’s not an entirely sensible way of looking at things, but it’s an opinion held by many.

On the other hand, malaria affects 500 million people per year, and is easily and cheaply preventable. Yet 20% of child deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa are due to malaria. A child dies every of malaria every thirty seconds. 95.2% of malaria infections can be prevented with a US$5 mosquito net impregnated with insecticide, which is effective for 5 years. In many test villages, malaria was eradicated by these nets. For the same cost as treating one person with HIV for one year, 720 nets can be bought. For the cost of the cheapest anti-retroviral treatment for every HIV suffer for a year, over 14 billion of these nets could be bought – malaria could be virtually eradicated.

Malaria is, by no means, a death sentence. Treatment is cheap – US$0.90 for a child, US$2.40 for an adult. But with so many infections, the cost soon adds up. So to claim that malaria is not worth preventing because it’s cheaply treatable is inaccurate, and really makes little sense.

Malaria isn’t as perversely marketable as HIV. It’s not a taboo subject, and it gets little press because it affects the poorest of the poor, not the richer parts of African society. Think: When was the last time you heard the phrase “Millions dying of HIV in Africa”? When was the last time you heard of “Millions dying of malaria in Africa”? Fewer die of malaria than HIV; but we could feasibly eradicate malaria right here, right now. Why don’t we?

People with HIV and the scores of other infections which kill Africans should not be left to die. We have to do something, and we have to start somewhere. Why not with malaria?

[flashvideo filename=”http://sjhoward.co.uk/video/malaria.flv” /]

Video credit Jacquisha

This post was filed under: Health, Video.

Jon Stewart: The Daily Show post-9/11

I’ve never seen this in full before.

Suddenly I see why people responded to Stewart’s speech moreso than those of Government bods, newcasters, and celebrities. It’s painfully honest.

[flashvideo filename=”http://sjhoward.co.uk/video/stewart911.flv” title=”The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)” /]

This post was filed under: Video.

Mad Pat redefines ‘stabilising’

Patricia Hewitt

The NHS is now in £521,000,000 debt. That’s quite a lot. More than twice as much as this time last year, in fact.

When responding to the last set of figures last December, Patricia Hewitt, our esteemed Health Secretary, announced that she would have the debt down to £250,000,000 by April. It’s now June, and she’s nowhere near – in fact, she’s heading in the wrong direction altogether, despite firing 12,000 people, cancelling countless operations, and reducing the quality of patient care. Yet today in Mad Pat world…

The NHS is now stabilising this financial problem while counting to improve services for patients.

Doubling of debt equals ‘stabilising this financial problem’. This new definition is very handy. Blood pressure doubled in 12 months? Don’t bother treating it, it’s stable! Tumour size doubled? Don’t worry about that cancelled op, your tumour’s stable! Think of the savings that can be made!

Doctors can see what’s wrong here. The BMA Consultants Committee said

Yes, bad management is a problem in some places, but the biggest cause is the interference from government. Something is going badly wrong and it is demoralising for staff.

We know the nurses are against her following the extraordinary action at their conference.

This demonstrates that even medical students, not yet employed by the NHS, aren’t fans:


And, hey-ho, the Confederation of the managers Mad Pat was so criticised for introducing in the first place is even against her:

It is all too easy to blame individual managers, but the financial problems often relate to systemic issues.

And, surprise surprise, the Opposition knows what’s wrong:

Policy is failing.

So who’s backing Mad Pat? Well, apparently, Mr Blair. Despite her coming out with meaningless misjudged announcement after meaningless misjudged announcement, even after missing her own targets by miles, there’s still no suggestion that she might be unfit for the position.

Nobody in the NHS likes her, she polls badly, and she doesn’t meet targets. Why on Earth is she still in office?

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

Bird ‘Flu: The Musical

Are you prepared?

The Scene
On their way back to Earth, having been away for many years trying to discover a cure for avian flu, astronaut Bernard Matthews and his crew are brought out of their cryogenic sleep as their ship intercepts an interstellar distress signal. They crash-land on a planet that seems uninhabited, but are soon enslaved by giant, English-speaking chickens in leather jackets.

Sample lyric
“It swept the planet and laid us low,
This pandemic,
This terrible blow.

We travelled the skies, In search of a clue,
A prescription,
For this avian flu.

I returned with a cure, but now what really sickens,
Is that I’m being pushed around,
By a bunch of free-range chickens”

The Grauny’s other fantastic musical suggestions, including Oxford English Dictionary: The Musical, can be found here. This is all in celebration of NHS: The Musical and Shane Warne: The Musical… which are, scarily, genuine.

This post was filed under: Media, News and Comment.

Blair to face charges over Stockwell?

Sir Ian Blair

Yesterday’s Observer (no surprises that it was them) splashed on the story that Sir Ian Blair could face charges over the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes on 21st July last year, based on the fact that the Crown Prosecution Service’s analysis of events focuses on Sir Ian and two other senior commanders. This is, of course, in addition to the ongoing inquiry as to whether Sir Ian misled the public in the aftermath of the attacks of 7th July. And, one year on, it would appear that suspects are still being shot without warning.

Now, I’m fairly certain that Sir Ian has acted wrongly at various points in the aftermath of 7th July, but I don’t think he’s done so knowingly, and I don’t think he’s deliberately set out to cause harm and mislead the public. I don’t think that charging him with any kind of offence is going to serve a great purpose here. He should have resigned, as he’s at least nominally in charge of officers who killed an innocent man, but I don’t think that can be blamed on him per sé.

It would appear to my uniformed self that what’s going on here is that too many police are being handed guns with too little training and too much emotion. The government is all too keen to get armed police on the streets so that it looks like they’re doing something in the face of an apparent terrorist threat, and this results in armed officers needing to be trained quickly, churning out like sausages in a sausage factory. But I wouldn’t want to be confronted by a sausage with a gun: If police are going to carry guns, they should be very highly trained, not just in how to use them, but more importantly in how and when not to use them.

It seems to me that such training either isn’t happening, or isn’t sufficient. Charging Sir Ian Blair with health and safety offences for failing in his duty of care won’t change that. A change in police and government culture – rather more difficult to achieve – just might.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

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